Playing in The Charlie Daniels Band
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Since 1975, Charlie Hayward has held down the bottom for the Charlie Daniels Band playing bass guitar touring and recording with Daniels. We caught up with Hayward at his hotel in Spartanburg, S.C. just prior to an Easter Seals benefit concert for a few questions about his long and varied career.
Where were you born?
I was born outside of Hope, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where the University of Alabama is located. I was born there in 1949 and the last of seven kids.
I didn’t know you were an Alabama guy. Did you come from a musical family?
I can remember my mom playing St. Louis blues on the piano when I was growing up and when she was younger she played piano in the church and she knew all the hymns. My dad had an old Stella acoustic guitar he played and I picked up some chords from him. My older brother also played guitar and I learned from him.
How old were you when you picked up your first guitar?
Probably about 10-11 years old when I first started picking on that old Stellar guitar. The strings were about an inch and a half off the fingerboard.
When did you transition to bass?
When I actually first started playing guitar, it was with a friend named Richard Kent, about the same time that English movement of the Beatles and Rolling Stones were happening about ‘63-’64. Me and him would get together and play and we would just play acoustic guitar and get together every Saturday and learn new songs. Then, about 1967 I changed over to bass. The first band that Richard and I had had two girl drummers, nowadays we would be hip with that. (laughs) The next band was the first authentic band that we got paid to play in, me and Richard and about three other guys. A bass player and drummer and keyboard player. That band was called the Hellucinations-- that drummer came up with that name. I played guitar with that band and me and Richard were having to learn the bass parts and that was probably what got me headed in that direction. And I was starting to hear songs and learn bass. There were lots of good guitar players in Tuscaloosa at that time but not as many bass players. I just thought that might be a good thing to do.
Is that near Muscle Shoals?
Tuscaloosa is between Meridian and Birmingham.
What happened during the period between that band and the time you ended up playing with Alex Taylor?
Remember those good guitar players I was talking about? Well, one of them was a guy named Tippie Armstrong and he put together a band called The South Camp. He played guitar and I played bass and Lou Mullinax played drums and my friend Richard from high school was still playing guitar and singing; and a guy named Court Pickett played keyboards.
Isn’t he the guy that did Sailcat?
Yeah, with Johnny Wyker. When you are talking about Alabama musicians, it’s all a big circle. Lou was also on Motorcycle Mama and he also played with Alex and I later on. Anyway, that was one band that we had and another one was me and Lou and Chuck Leavell and a guitar player named Joe Rudd. We had a group called Care and we played around Birmingham and that was actually when we started getting into some recording with a black songwriter named Sam Dees; he knew a guy with a studio. That was a great experience. Later on, Chuck and Lou and Court all wound up going to Macon, Georgia and they got signed with Capricorn in the early days. They had a group called Sundown and they wanted me to come over and play bass with them. They called me and there was no hesitation at all and we went to Macon, Georgia and just about starved to death. It was like we didn’t hardly get any gigs and had nothing. This separates those that want to be musicians from those that are just in it for the money. We weren’t making any money at the time but it was a great learning experience. So, when I joined them it probably didn’t last but for another six months or so and we weren’t really doing anything, selling any records and it just petered out. Then, in the spring of ‘70 we got the chance to hook up with Alex Taylor. At that time, Joe Rudd was playing guitar with Alex and he hung around for a while then later on we got Jimmy Nalls to play guitar with us. You know Jimmy from Sea Level. One thing about that band, it was our first real “on the road band.” You would actually go out and be on the road for a couple of weeks at a time. Not like these guys nowadays. We were traveling around in an old LTD station wagon and everyone packed into it and everybody had to drive a tank of gas. You had a van with the equipment and a couple of roadies to help with the equipment; it was not like it is now. We had lots of fun and I will always remember that. Alex was the first real road gig I had.
Alex is related to James Taylor?
Yeah, he is his older brother.
There is another one named Livingston?
He is more of a folk singer. There is another brother named Hugh and he never left Martha’s Vineyard, but people say he was very talented. And then there was a sister named Kate and she was more of an R&B type singer. Alex’s main style was blues and R&B.
Did you record with him?
Yeah, we did a record called Dinnertime with him, and Johnny Sandlin from Capricorn produced it. That guy is one of the most fun producers I have ever worked with. He’s a musician, a bass player and a drummer. He just knows what songs need to make them happen.
What would you say were some of the high points that you remember from playing with Alex Taylor and Chuck Leavell and all of those guys?
We got to do quite a few shows with Duane and the Allmans and we opened lots of shows for them. Then, the next year after Duane when Dickey kind of took over, that was before Chuck came in, just doing some of those big festivals that we played with them were great. We did some school auditoriums and clubs and we did a show with Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes. We did a show with B.B. King back when he had just himself and a left-handed bass player, Sonny Freeman. I remember just sitting out front and listening to his whole set. He was my first inspiration in music besides my parents. I remember listening to “Rock Me Baby” when I was about 10 years old. It just struck a chord in me.
Tell me your strongest musical influences in your life.
Being from the South, it is hard for me not to say that the Southern influences were some of the greatest influences in the world. Those guys in Muscle Shoals like David Hood, Roger Hawkins, and then up in Memphis you had Jack Dunn and Al Jackson. I don’t know who the drummer of James Brown’s original stuff was, I think the bass player’s name was Bernard Oden but, man, those guys were such staunch pocket players, they just did exactly what the songs needed. Like James Jamison from Motown, some of the stuff was bubblegum but, man, if you listen to what the drums and bass were doing from a musician’s standpoint, it’s hard to deny that those guys were anything but just staunch bluesmen and great players and knew exactly what to do. Mostly R&B and soul and like those blues guys Jerry Germont that played on B.B. King’s Alive and Well and Completely Well. It would take me all day to name all those guys. The great thing was they were doing those monster grooves on just, like a 4-string T-bass or jazz bass. It’s like there is so much out there now -- 6-string or 7-string basses. I got to listening to more of the authentic blues guys from down in the Delta like Elmore James and Robert Johnson and some more of those guys from over in the Delta. The influence of all those styles was huge and they played with lots of emotion.
Did you do other things between the time that you played with Alex Taylor and the time that you joined up with Charlie?
After Alex, me and Chuck and Jimmy Nalls and Lou, we were kind of like our whole little rhythm section and we went to play with Dr. John for about three months. We played for Mac. That was quite an experience.
Jimmy Nalls told me that.
That was a great experience. We had all grown up with our own influences. We were rock, R&B and blues-oriented guys, whereas Mac was just staunch second line New Orleans. Talk about a weird mixture! And I think that he really wanted guys more like him in his musical style. He ended up getting The Meters when we left and doing “Right Place at the Wrong Time.” We didn’t really stay with him long, maybe for about three months. There was an album we did called Gumbo and I still go back and listen to it. It was some of the best second line groove stuff that you’ll ever want to listen to. Like these guys today play many, many notes and lots of drums, but if you go back and listen to what these guys are playing it really makes a lot of sense. It’s not like musical gymnastics.
Either Jimmy Nalls or Chuck Leavell one told me that you guys had rehearsed for that Dr. John thing and he came in there and y'all took off playing and Dr. John just shook his head and said, “I’m going to have to teach you guys how to play second line.”
That’s exactly right. It is a whole different way of playing, the accent is on a different part of the beat. It’s different from playing rock or blues. To me, it’s like you have to grow up playing that to play it well.
When or where did you meet up with Charlie?
After that Dr. John thing we were still in Macon and it was that fall, in October, when Duane (Allman) got killed and then Chuck hooked up with The Brothers and got to be with them. Then we played on the Laid Back album with Gregg. Me and Chuck and Jimmy Nalls played on some of it. He had lots of different great players. We had Johnny Sandlin produce it and he also played bass on a couple of tunes, and (David) Fathead Newman played saxophone on it and Buzzy Feiten played guitar lead on “Queen of Hearts.” Tommy Talton and Scott Boyer, they were right in there, too. To this day, that was one of the most fun records that I remember playing on. The way Johnny did things, he knew just what he wanted and just went in and did it. If you listen to it with a metronome, it is up and down and all over the place. It was a great feel. He did a great job of producing and mixing it. After that was done, I wanted to get away from Macon. Lou, our drummer, passed away and I went back to Tuscaloosa and played in a band called Foxfire. We just played frat parties and stuff like that for a couple of years. Then, finally, I hooked up with Charlie through Paul Hornsby. Paul was one of those guys from Tuscaloosa that I had played with and I had known him from years before and he had been a couple of those bands I had played with. He had produced Fire On The Mountain and I think that was the first album he had done on Charlie and I think all of his musicians, drummer, guitarist and bass player had all quit on him at the same time. Then I got a call from Charlie who had gotten my number from Paul who had recommended me and he basically just hired me over the phone without hearing me play a note. They played in Tuscaloosa the next night and opened for Lynyrd Skynryd and I took my bass and played a couple of songs with him in the dressing room. I got on the bus and have been going ever since.
So, you were not on the Fire On The Mountain?
No, I came in on Night Rider. I have been on practically every album since. Charlie has had some great musicians come through his band. He had Billy Cox for a while and he had Earl Grigsby and Mark Fitzgerald and then I have been with him since March of 1975. We were doing dates with Skynyrd, the Allmans, Marshall Tucker -- we did a lot of dates with Marshall Tucker. It was just really different in those days because of the camaraderie. It was all for one, but still if you were opening, you’d spark one another, kind of push each other. Not really in a competitive way, but just give the crowd a good show.
When you joined the band, how did those first few gigs feel? Were you scared or confident?
I was totally scared to death. First off, a lot of Charlie’s songs are not like just going out and learning a straight song. Songs like “No Place Left to Go,” they have a lot of changes in them. Basically, me and Tommy Crain and Don Murray just worked into the band while we were on the road when those other two guys left. I came in two weeks after they left. One thing I have to say is, Mark Fitzgerald, he hung around for a couple or three days until I could kind of get a handle on everything. But, all of the sudden, I went from this band in Tuscaloosa playing clubs to playing 10,000 seat halls. It was intimidating but also kind of exciting. Learning everything off the cuff, so to speak.
How did you like touring with The Marshall Tucker Band?
Yeah, Tommy and Toy both -- man, it was just so amazing to play with them because you could stand over on the side of the stage and watch them. They’d both play with their thumbs. They learned that from their dad. And they’d play so fast sometimes you couldn’t hardly even see ‘em. Both of those guys were great people. They were both military, too. When people would see Marshall Tucker, a lot of them would be watching Doug sing or Jerry on the flute or Toy playing lead, but I was always watching Tommy and Paul and George. They were always in the pocket. They never relinquished the groove. It was like a stranglehold from beginning to end, you know?
Charlie Hayward, Buffalo and Tommy Crain at Angelus.
I remember it well. Those really were the days. Tell us about Charlie Daniels. Not the public image, but the real man.
Well, let me begin by saying we were all a little wild and crazy when we were younger, and Charlie would tell you the same thing. There are a lot of things we are not proud of about our past. But nonetheless, they are a part of who we are and we are mighty fortunate to still be around. But with Charlie, what you see is what you get, pretty much. He’s a guy who believes in treating people fair. There’s been times, many times over when he could have fired a lot of us. But I think he holds to seniority and for sticking with him through the rough times. Maybe that more than talent sometimes. I’m not saying he hasn’t had good musicians all the time, but probably there have been times in his career when he could have gotten some aged musicians but it wouldn’t have been the kind of band concept that he likes to have. He’s just a solid person.Very dependable, too. I’ve seen others in the business that get chewed up and spit out but he just kind of grabbed the bull by the horns and rode it on out. Through the big years and through the lean years, he always maintained his focus on what he wanted to do in music. He never gave up. I think Charlie has just been a great guy to work with. I hear about all these other guys that are hired by the tour and they come up to you and fire you at Christmastime because they don’t want to pay you or whatever. Charlie’s like an abnormality in the music business, he really is. And I’d like to add that Charlie has probably been a Christian all his life, but I came to know the Lord back in 1984. And since then we have even more of a closeness because of our similar beliefs. And just having a handle on life. He is not just a music guy. Family is real important. He likes to go home and ride horses or go fishing or go to the mountains. That’s the way I am, too. I like to spend time with my family. You have to have some kind of balance. You can’t be just all music. I don’t know about cats like that. There are some guys like that, all they do is live and breathe music, but me, I’ve got to get away from it sometimes.
Speaking of Christianity, I have seen you guys several times lately showing up on The Billy Graham Crusades.
I think they’ll start being with Franklin Graham this year, I think he’s taking over for his dad. But Charlie, he can reach people who might not ever go to church. Out here on the road, he gives a little bit of a testimony every night about the Lord.
(Laughs) What’s your favorite CDB album that you’ve recorded with Charlie?
Can I say two?
(Laughs) You sure can!
Reflections and Full Moon. Those were a total, consummate band effort. Sometimes Charlie would have an idea of what he wanted and sometimes we would start from scratch -- “make a chord.” One of us would get an idea for a groove and we’d just bounce ideas off of each other. And Tommy and Charlie were so into writing they would just spur each other on. Tommy’s the kind of guy who has endless ideas. He’ll throw three or four out there and then he’s got another dozen. And rehearsals, I’d leave and my fingers would just about be bleeding. We’d practice for a long time.
What have been a couple of the high points for you as a member of the CDB?
As a Christian, playing the Billy Graham Crusades. And also, we’ve done a lot for the military service overseas in Korea and Germany. There’s been winning a Grammy and CMA Awards and that was okay. But the Billy Graham Crusades were the most important.